by Meridith Levinson

How To Be Charismatic

May 24, 2010

A communications coach offers a quick lesson in the brain science behind charisma.

Can a stuffy manager learn to be charismatic? You bet. While many people believe charisma is an innate quality (you either have it or you don’t), communications expert and coach Dr. Nick Morgan maintains that anyone can learn to be charismatic.

Charisma, Morgan explained during a recent Reach Branding Club teleseminar, is the focused expression of emotion. So long as managers can learn to focus their emotions, they can learn to be charismatic. (Check out Morgan’s thoughts on leadership, communication and authenticity.)

“When we find a speaker charismatic, it’s because the speaker has a powerful emotion connected with the material he or she is talking about,” Morgan said during the teleseminar. “That’s what we respond to.”

Morgan noted that the human brain is wired to respond to emotion. It’s what makes us social beings. He explained that the sole purpose of certain neurons in our brains (called mirror neurons) is to mimic the emotions of others in our own minds so that when we see someone experiencing sadness, for example, we feel blue, too. 

“When a speaker is charismatic, they express an emotion in their unconscious brain, and our mirror neurons respond to it,” said Morgan. “That’s where charisma comes from.”

We’re not always able to be charismatic in a meeting or at a conference, for example, because we’re distracted by other things on our mind, whether they be work, personal problems, chores we need to do, or what we’re having for dinner, said Morgan.

“Our unconscious brains express these [conflicting emotions] through our bodies, and everyone picks up on them through their mirror neurons,” he said. “They see a distracted person. A charismatic person has figured out how to focus his or her emotions [so he or she doesn’t get distracted].”

One trick to appearing—and being—more charismatic lies in the way you carry yourself. When you’re walking into a meeting or onto a stage to give a speech, Morgan recommends standing up straight with your shoulders relaxed and slightly back and leading with your heart. He says most people lead with either their head, because they have a lot on their mind, or with their legs. Standing up straight with your heart “open” makes a person look heartfelt, said Morgan, and thus more trustworthy.